Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's The Deal With All This Styrofoam?!

Good afternoon all! I decided to make this weeks post a public vent session to share with you all. It’s my longest post yet, but I encourage you to keep reading and feel free to post your comments. Some interactive dialogue would be warmly welcomed :)


On my way to work this morning, while sitting in the drive thru line of Dunkin Donuts, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of waste Dunkins generates on a daily basis. It’s disturbing since most of it doesn’t biodegrade! I was concerned with the amount produced from just the drive thru of that particular location, never mind the millions of other branches that are out there.
Just about every customer in front of me purchased a drink and some type of food item. All food is packaged in some sort of plastic or paper container and every drink is served in either plastic or styrofoam, both of which DO NOT break down in the landfills they will most likely end up in. (I suppose you could argue with that statement if you count the couple thousand years it takes for them to decompose!...) If "America Runs on Dunkin" then maybe it's time they rethink packaging options. (Is anyone with me on this?)

Me, personally, I went to school for environmental science so I am all about recycling. I try to recycle as much as possible, even those leftover styrofoam and plastic coffee containers, but I guarantee 75%-85% of you out there don't think twice about throwing  into the closest trash. It tends to be the more convenient thing to do, so why not right? WRONG! Do you ever take a second to think about how much waste is being added to the waste stream by you alone? This amount varies by person and season, but whichever way you spin it, it’s excessive. The temperatures are starting to rise, so don’t try and pretend you won’t be paying the extra dollar for that styrofoam hot cups to insulate your iced coffees! It’s not only unnecessary, but extremely wasteful and it really gets on my nerves and you're about to find out why!

Expanded polystyrene or EPS, better known as styrofoam is petroleum based (can anyone say increased dependence on foreign oil reserves!) and contains styrene, a toxin that has been recognized as a carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Although this toxic substance is a great insulator, it spends a hell of alot more time in a landfill then it does insulating your beverage! It’s lightweight, consisting of 99% air, but it’s bulky and takes up large quantities of needed space in landfills. Since it’s used in such a wide variety of things including the obvious items like food and drink containers, packaging and building materials and even things you wouldn't think about like weapons of mass destruction, it’s hard to imagine it will be disappearing anytime soon, especially since on average, it tends to be cheaper to produce than it is to recycle. (Ummm, what’s up with that?!)

Besides the fact that is doesn't readily breakdown, styrofoam can contaminate food and drinks by leaching into warm food and drinks, alcohol, and other acidic foods, which poses a serious health risk to people. Humans aren’t the only ones harmed by EPS though. Since it is created by using a highly flammable chemical, Benzene which produces massive quantities of widespread air pollution when produced or burned, our ecosystems and wildlife are also negatively affected. 

Styrofoam is polluting air, land and waterways all over the country and filling up landfills faster than necessary. Although it never fully decomposes, interaction with light causes it to photodegrade and break into tiny little pieces that wildlife often mistake for food creating a blockage in their digestive tracts and resulting in a slow painful death by starvation. 

Think of how many animals could be saved from a universal ban on EPS! Obviously light is visible above land, but how much light do you think is reaching the thickly lined and capped landfills?


 Many recycling programs aren’t willing to accept styrofoam because it takes up so much space and there isn’t a large enough market for it. Understandable I guess, but it’s incredibly unfortunate that our planet is being disrupted due to this. It seems like a problem with a solution right? We know the issues associated with this toxic material and we are aware that the technology to properly recycle it is available, so why is it that only a handful of states have caught onto this and actively fought to have legislators enact restrictions and violations for use? (I’m having a hard time understanding why, can anyone offer some insight?) EPS foam packaging is being recycled at minimal amounts in our country. It’s estimated that about 10%-12% is recycled annually, leaving approximately 90% of the styrofoam produced to be improperly discarded.

In 1990, polystyrene foam containers were banned in restaurants, grocery stores and other retail vendors. While this ban was necessary and has been pretty effective, more still needs to be done. Some states that have been successful in rallying for the use of more sustainable materials include Massachusetts, New York and California to name a few. Officials have approved bans on styrofoam containers at takeout establishments, which is great...but WHY hasn’t this been extended to ALL restaurants, grocery stores and other vendors? So much more of an effort can be made on everyone part so let’s pull together and in the words of Ghandi “be the change you want to see in the world.” Every pound of polystyrene that is recycled is one less pound of styrofoam that doesn’t have to be created! 

Since it's first appearance in 1937, this product has exploded in just about every industry in some way or another. People have grown so accustomed to using it, but have not yet recognized how harmful it really is. It's unlikely that it will be going anywhere soon, so why don't we make it easier for people to recycle it? What about having more recycling receptacles specifically for EPS in highly populated areas? In addition to that, perhaps restaurants and fast food establishments like Dunkin Donuts could offer an incentive for customers to recycle with them by taking a percentage off their bill if they bring back their unwanted styrofoam containers. They could potentially benefit from this because by having that 'going green' edge, more customers may be willing to frequent their establishment more often.

Despite the fact that styrofoam has become the preferred choice of restaurants and shipping corporations, there are many alternatives that can be used that work just as well and don’t impact the environment. For example, a New York based company called Ecovative has come up with a unique organic alternate called EcoCradle, that is composed of a combination of agricultural byproducts like seed husks and plant stocks, recycled paper, and fungus. (Yes I said fungus, it sounds gross, but the process is actually all natural and sustainable, and no spores are ever involved!) The materials are mixed with mycelium, or mushroom tissue and the product is grown indoors without light or petrochemicals. 

Once grown, it is then dehydrated and treated with heat to stop further growth then molded into the desired shape. The end product is 100% biodegradable and actually helps the environment because it can be composted rather than thrown away.
Another product that can be used as a substitute for EPS is bagasse. It's a sugarcane fiber byproduct and can be molded into a variety of shapes and used as tableware, disposable containers or packaging. It can be used for both hot and cold foods and is created without any plastic or wax lining. Bagasse does biodegrade and it’s a great alternative to styrofoam because it looks and works just like EPS, but requires less water and energy!

Getting involved and rallying for a more sustainable lifestyle is easier than you may think. For example support restaurants and organizations that use more practical compostable products. Bring your own reusable storage containers to establishments and hopefully people will start doing the same. Speak up and voice your opinion - it can go a long way in persuading politicians and business owners to change their ways. Start recycling your polystyrene waste with us here at Gold Circuit! It must be free of food residues, but there is no charge for doing so and drop offs can be made at any time Monday-Friday between 8am & 4pm or 8am - 12pm on Saturdays.


  1. UPDATE: It looks like Dunkin Donuts came across our blog!! Copy and paste the link below into your browser to learn about how they'll be introducing styrofoam recycling recepticles and making the shift from styrofoam to paper containers :)

  2. Valuable information and excellent and useful article you got here! I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!!
    e Waste Recycling

  3. Hey Amy!

    Great article! Do you by chance know who made the image next to your subtitle "Some encouraging facts"? I'm working on a project to raise plastic pollution awareness and was hoping to use the image for our project site.

    Gordon Middleton

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  6. This is a good article to tell us how to divide plastic foams. Styrofoam is hard to dissolve in the nature for thousands of years. The article also bring us some ways of recycling. Take renewable PS mouldings and frames as an example, INTCO recycling company can provide styrofoam densifiers to recycle Styrofoam and reproduce renewable PS mouldings.Here has whole EPS recycling solution:

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  8. This is the nice post and this post is really appreciable and informatics .I like this post too much.
    Electronic waste disposal facts

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  10. Valuable information and excellent and useful article you got here! I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!! Our company INTCO also have the solutions to deal with waste Styrofoam through our machines, such as compactor, melter. Here is out website:

  11. Awesome Post here. This is really great and informative post.

    E Waste Disposal Company in Chennai

  12. Waste is misplaced resource. Polystyrene is worth recycling. In our daily life, we can make good use of styrofoam and reproduce them as renewable PS frames. I recommend INTCO Recycling who have the machines to deal with the waste polystyrene and will purchase waste EPS. And here is our website:

  13. This is a good article to tell us how to divide plastic formation.: Styrofoam is technically recyclable. It's actually a type of plastic. However, it can be hard to find a Waste management center that will take it.

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What are your thought's on this month's post?